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Service-Learning in India

December 15, 2016
Service-Learning in India

written by David Fyfe, Ph.D.

For the last six years, I have been teaching several classes with a study-abroad component at York College. One of these courses is an International Service-Learning course where students travel to India and focus on issues of poverty and development. I have taken three groups of students to India in the last four years and am gearing up to take another group next winter. This is hands-down the most rewarding class that I teach.

I serve on the Board of Directors for the nonprofit Homes of the Indian Nation (HOINA), founded by Darlene Large and based in Lancaster, PA. HOINA cares for abandoned, abused, handicapped, orphaned and destitute children in southern India. There is a home for girls and a home for boys on the same campus, and each accommodates about 100 children with a full-time Indian staff of about 20 people. I have been to India six times during the last decade and volunteered and led groups of students to volunteer at the orphanage.

The service-learning program is a year-long commitment for the students as they take a one-credit course the semester prior to travel, travel to India over the winter or summer break, and then complete the class with a two-credit follow-up course the following semester.

The objective of the first semester is to understand contemporary perspectives on globalization, poverty and development and social change in international contexts. I see what a difference the students make at the orphanage where they volunteer, but I also see how being immersed in a different culture makes them think about what and how they 'know' about these complex issues. In addition, the course also prepares students for the practical aspects of the trip to India such as getting visas, vaccinations and packing appropriately. During the semester break, the trip to India is approximately three weeks long. Students travel to India and spend most of their time volunteering at the orphanage, but also have some time to see some of the major tourist sites such as the Taj Mahal in Agra.

While at HOINA, students perform a variety of tasks that range from manual labor such as painting and helping prepare meals for 200 children to assisting staff with their English skills and aiding the children with their daily homework. The course integrates academic perspectives on how to make a positive difference in a globalizing world with the experience of doing service work in orphanages run by HOINA.

Lastly, in the second semester, students are expected to think critically about their experiences in India and to use the concepts learned during the class and travel to analyze not only how they made a difference in India, but also how they can use their experiences to continue to make a positive difference in the world throughout their lives.

Since there is a variety of majors who take the class, I try to have each of them conduct research about their discipline as it relates to India prior to departure and then try to arrange visits to places where they can see firsthand how their research complements or diverges from their experiences. The class is open to all majors, and in the past, there have been quite a few Nursing, Pre-Med, Psychology and Education majors who took part in this program. On previous trips, we have visited medical research facilities, rural healthcare clinics, government-run orphanages, local schools and some hill-tribe villages in the mountains. The partnership between HOINA and YCP allows students to experience these non-tourist sites in order to see and understand some of the authentic Indian customs and practices.

Students are required to keep a journal during the trip. They are given prompts that ask them to assess not only what they see and do, but also what they learn along the way. The journals are then used in the second semester when students communicate their experiences to a number of audiences including oral presentations to the YCP community and articles for HOINA's monthly newsletter, as well as a press release to their hometown newspaper. Even after the class is over, there have been many students over the years that continue to serve HOINA and a couple that have opted to go back to India and volunteer for a longer period of time at the orphanage. Web Exclusive:

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